08/14/2012 12:19PM

Arlington Park: Silver Max has partners riding high

Coady Photography
Silver Max was a $20,000 yearling purchase.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Mark Bacon and Dana Wells met one long-ago afternoon in the dingy confines of the old Sports Spectrum simulcast parlor in Louisville, Ky. It was a chance meeting made possible only by their shared passion for playing the races.

“You’d have never guessed then that we’d be in this position now as owners,” said Bacon.

Indeed, with a 3-year-old turf phenom named Silver Max, Bacon and Wells are living the proverbial dream. Both will travel to Chicago this weekend to watch Silver Max try to extend his winning streak to seven when he faces eight other 3-year-olds in his first Grade 1 race, the $500,000 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park.

Bacon and Wells, both 46, have long sought refuge in racing partly as a means of easing the stress of their professional lives. Bacon has worked out of his Louisville hometown for Brown-Forman, the liquor distributing giant, for 23 years, and now travels internationally on an extensive basis as brand manager for Southern Comfort. Wells, who has returned to his native Phoenix after years of living elsewhere, including four years in Louisville in the mid-1990s, is president of CBS Outdoor, which has more than $2 billion in revenue in selling billboard and other media display space.

Their trainer, Dale Romans, who turned 46 on Tuesday, has known both men for years, having run in essentially the same racetrack circles.

“I’ve been friends with Mark since before high school, and I’ve known Dana a long time, too,” said Romans, who not only will have Silver Max in the Secretariat, but also Cozzetti and Finnegans Wake for different owners. “It’s been a ton of fun having a good horse for them.”

True to their handicapping roots, both Bacon and Wells are wondering aloud how deep the competition will be Saturday for Silver Max, a speedy bay who has rarely been headed in going unbeaten since taking a turf allowance at Gulfstream Park in March. Aside from Summer Front, unbeaten in five grass starts for Christophe Clement, major threats in the Secretariat field will include the European pair of Bayrir and Daddy Long Legs. Both have hinted that their best efforts might be enough to push Silver Max to his limit.

“They do kind of scare me, because their form is so hard to gauge,” said Bacon. “It’s one of the things that makes Arlington such a great venue. They’ve got horses coming from overseas to challenge us. It should make for a great race.”

As Silver Max kept reeling off wins, Romans often said the colt had not yet been fully used. That seemed to change in his last start, the 1 1/4-mile Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs, where a longshot with a slipped saddle suddenly zoomed ahead of him on the backstretch run. Silver Max and jockey Robby Albarado did not panic, and the colt eventually forged back ahead at a steady clip, then had enough left down the stretch when put to a steady drive to prevail by a length in his longest race yet. The Secretariat also is run at 1 1/4 miles.

The Virginia Derby increased Silver Max’s earnings to $855,967, a rather tidy sum for a colt who cost just $20,000 as a yearling.

“I’d had a few horses here and there, usually with a partner,” said Bacon. “My dad usually had a horse or two when I was growing up, so I was always hanging around the racetrack. Dana and I have been partners before, but not with anything close to this. To have a top horse like this has been just unbelievable.”

Alluding to dominating scores by Silver Max in the Grade 3 Transylvania at Keeneland and the Grade 2 American Turf on the Kentucky Oaks undercard at Churchill Downs, Bacon said, “That was like a dream come true, for him to run the way he did in front of all my family and friends.”

“It really has been an unbelievable run,” said Wells. “The horse has really put it all together.”

As outstanding as Silver Max has been thus far, the Secretariat will be the start of seeing just how good he is against top-flight company. After this, assuming another big effort, the colt could have one more race, perhaps the Grade 1 Shadwell Mile on opening weekend of the Keeneland fall meet in October, before heading to California for a shot at the $3 million Breeders’ Cup Mile on Nov. 3 on the Santa Anita turf.

“Secretariat was my favorite horse, so winning this race would be really special, and I can’t say enough good things about hospitable the people at Arlington have been,” said Bacon. “We’re all having a whole lot of fun right now. We’re just hoping we can keep it up.”